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Better Know a Crafter: Sophia Cai

Woman in yellow sweater
Photo Credit: Sophia Cai

We were thrilled to get a chance to catch up with curator, writer, and knitter Sophia Cai for this interview. Be sure to check out her artwork, writing, and current projects on her Instagram and website. Sophia's "Safety Yellow Woman" sweater was knit using Germantown yarn in Yellow and Black, provided by us for the project.

How did you get started in fiber art? What is your background?

I'm a curator and art historian by training, and I've always loved art and craft ever since I was a child. I knew I wanted to crochet and knit long before I learnt how to, and I was particularly enchanted by the Japanese craft books at my favourite bookshop and would spend hours looking over them. It wasn't until the winter of 2013 when I found myself living abroad on my own that I finally took the leap and taught myself to knit with a beginner's knitting kit. I remember how proud I was of that bright pink chunky scarf I made, and it still lives in my wardrobe today.

Yellow Safety Sleeves
Photo Credit: Sophia Cai

Recently, Fancy Tiger Crafts provided yarn support for an art piece that you displayed in an exhibition. Can you tell us a little bit about that project?

Safety Yellow Woman was a sweater I knitted during the extended lockdown in Melbourne during 2020. I've always been intrigued by the idea of making 'unfunctional' knitwear, and I had wanted to make a sweater with socially-distanced sleeves. The pieces for the project fell into place when I saw an open call from Diversity Arts Australia for the I Am Not a Virus project, which asked Asian-Australian creatives to make works that responded to the rise of anti-Asian racism during the last year. I know in Australia our issues are similar to those experienced by Asian-Americans at present. My sweater was a way for me to work through some of those feelings of alienation but also create a statement of solidarity on what it means to occupy a 'yellow' woman's body in a predominantly white culture today.

Woman in shopping center
Photo Credit: Sophia Cai

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I work as a freelancer and sessional academic staff, so my typical work days are quite flexible and never look quite the same. This also means that my knitting and crafting time varies greatly too, but I do like to spend at least a few moments each day with my latest project. After finishing Safety Yellow Woman at the end of 2020, however, I took an unplanned hiatus from knitting that I'm only coming back to now. I think being stuck on 'sleeve island' for the equivalent of 3 m really took a toll on me!

Yellow sweater on bench
Photo Credit: Sophia Cai

How would you describe your design aesthetic? What inspires you?

Pink is my neutral, and I love colour and patterns. I'm really inspired by people who work with knitting and craft in really novel and playful ways. I'm also interested in knitting as a potential for art-making and cultural critique, and there are many artists like Makeda Duong, Kate Just, Emma Buswell, and Freddie Robbins, to name a few, who make really interesting work in this area. I'm also a huge fan of vintage crafting patterns and their maximalist aesthetic - I still have plans to one day knit a vintage Jenny Kee koala sweater pattern (if Fancy Tiger wanted to provide the yarn support for that, haha!)

Woman in yellow sweater
Photo Credit: Sophia Cai

What is your studio/workspace like?

I live with a very understanding partner who has basically let me turn our spare room into a 'yarn room'. We installed a pegboard on the wall, and I have some of my favourite indie dyed skeins by amazing BIPOC dyers up on display. Every time I walk into that room the wall of yarn inspires me, and also reminds me of the incredible work that BIPOC crafters do and continue to do to make the knitting space a better one.

and, just for fun:

What is the last music collection or album you listened to on shuffle?

I wouldn't be able to finish this interview without mentioning to BTS. According to Spotify data from 2020, I was in the top 0.05% percentile of listeners of BTS, and listened to their music for the equivalent of 38 days straight. I think that says something about my love for BTS, as well as the amount of time I spent at home last year.

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